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The Golden Turtle, Refound

Friday, July 5, 2013

I met her on July 9 2011, a week much like this one, rainy and muggy. Perfect weather for a wandering female box turtle.

 Having laid her eggs in mid-June, she was free to roam, and the cool rain meant she could feed all day, finding slugs and earthworms in the wet grass.

She was breathtakingly beautiful, more gold than black, and I memorized her pattern as I stared mesmerized at her ornate shell. We have such beautiful box turtles in southeast Ohio. Brown-eyed females are usually duller than the red-eyed males, but not this time.

"There are rewards for the running. This morning as the rain dripped off my hat brim and soaked my shoes I found The Golden Turtle, an old female who's weathered some hardship. All the toes but one are gone from her hind feet, probably courtesy of a short-tailed shrew while she was hibernating. Shrews do worse than that; she was lucky her head and front feet were tucked in.

This calls into question her viability as a breeder. Could she dig a proper nest with soft stubs for feet, without claws? I don't know. I suppose if she found soft sand or very wet soil, she might be able to dig a nest of sorts.

Damn shrews.

I don't like to pick up or move turtles unless I have to, to get them out of harm's way.  It seems disrespectful. So these photos aren't the best, but they're the best I could get without disturbing her unduly.  In this photo you can see her eye, a dull red, hallmark of an older female. 

I left her there by our driveway, and when I came back she was gone. Soft soil and shrewless winters to you, dear Golden Turtle."

I felt lucky to have found her, lucky that she had been born on our land and would live out her century or more of allotted time on land that would stay as it is, as turtle habitat, for good. Her forest would not be cut over her. No cattle would come to graze and stomp out her habitat. She would be safe. We watch for turtles as we drive down our lane. 

Fast forward to July 2, 2013. Liam and I are driving down the driveway. Not fifty feet from where I photographed her in 2011, there she is! I jumped out of the car to greet her. But something was wrong.

It was her all right, but no one was home. 

She had died, perhaps months ago, probably not by car or coon, for her shell was perfect, unbroken, the plastron nearby. Perhaps she had come out too early in spring and been caught by a cold spell. Perhaps she'd contracted an upper respiratory infection. Perhaps the shrews had found her head while she was hibernating this time. I don't want to think about that. 

Whatever had happened, she was gone, and I'm grieving. I had hoped to see the golden turtle again, but not this way.

And yet, by noticing, by recording, by remembering and being able to call up and share my photos of her in life, I'm still richer for the experience. She lived out her life on our land, and did not pass unappreciated. I just wish we could have had another fifty years of her eggs and young, wish it hadn't ended so soon.


I was hoping for a different ending. She was quite a beauty.

There's always the thought that her progeny remain there to carry on…a la Charlotte.

You have a remarkable way of taking us from joy to tears, and, everywhere in-between.

I'm sorry The Golden Turtle is gone. But as you said she didn't go unappreciated and at least you saw her one more time, even though she was dead. I hope you find another Golden Turtle who lives on your land for decades! (I had no idea shrews ate turtles. Is this a normal food chain thing?)

Your heart is so big, and I appreciate the respect given to all the little guys you meet.

She certainly did have a "show stopper" garb. And was one of a lucky few to be honored by your respect and a poem. How old do you think she was ?

Posted by Sheila Z July 5, 2013 at 7:20 PM

Hi Julie....sharing your tears, but also remembering what Khalil Gibran said in a poem know great joy one must know great suffering. There is such a wondrous pleasure in meeting another being on the planet, especially when one is practicing stewardship of a piece of property like you and I are on different sides of the river here, and rooting for that being to make it.There will be more to hope for, cherish. and to mourn I wouldn't miss any of it.....<3

You took me from wonderment to tears in such a brief period of time. I'm so sorry for your loss. I prefer to think that on some cosmic level, she knew of your love and admiration for her. That is why when she knew her time was over, she picked a place where you would once again see her and mourn her passing. She had a great life on your land, and I'm sure that she appreciated what you gave to her every bit as much as you appreciated what she brought to you.

I know someday you will meet her children. Your energy will draw them close to you. Blessings.

I found a very similar box turtle - alive! - the same day in the mulch in my garden! She was probably eating my blackberries and is welcome to them.

Posted by Anonymous July 7, 2013 at 4:23 AM

I'm sorry Julie, I was hoping it was a happier ending. I'm hoping that she just died a quick and painless death and that she was able to dig a nest last year and lay eggs.

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